Devotions for December 7-13, 2015
Ezra 1:1-4, 3:1-4, 10-13
Monday, December 7, 2015
“The Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia” (Ezra 1:1).
It had been a tough week and Kim felt like she needed some shopping therapy. While browsing through a rack of sweaters, Kim bumped into a tall attractive woman wearing a head scarf. “Oh, excuse me,” Kim said. “I wasn’t looking where I was going.” “Neither was I,” the woman confessed. The two parted, but they kept encountering each other throughout the day. Every time they would greet each other and make a comment about the day. After a full day of shopping an exhausted Kim sat down in a mall chair to give her sore feet a rest. A few minutes later the woman with a head scarf approached her. “I couldn’t help but notice that you seemed troubled,” she said. The woman pulled out a cookie bag from her purse. She handed it to Kim and said, “I thought a cookie might ease your burden a little.” The woman smiled and walked away. Kim did feel better, but it wasn’t from the cookie. It was from the woman’s kindness.
Throughout their history, God had used descendants of Abraham to save God’s people. Moses, Joshua, the Judges, King David, and the prophets were all Israelites. The people assumed that God only worked in this manner, but then along came Cyrus. Cyrus was an outsider, a Persian, a Gentile, and still God used him. God used him to fulfill God’s promises to God’s people and return them to the Promised Land.
As disciples of Jesus we sometimes fool ourselves into thinking that we are the only ones God uses to reveal himself to others. Certainly, God has used and continues to use the Church and the followers of Jesus in powerful ways. God, however, also uses strangers, people of other faiths and other means to accomplish God’s purpose and reveal himself. God can use any act of love and kindness to expand God’s kingdom.
God of diversity, open our eyes that we may see you in other people even though they may be different from ourselves. Amen.
Tuesday, December 8, 2015
“The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth” (Ezra 1:2a).
Cyrus of Persia was an enlightened king. He viewed the world differently than the other monarchs of his time. He also saw his role as king from a different perspective. One of these differences is demonstrated in this verse. Cyrus saw that all he controlled was a gift from God. As gifts, Cyrus had to govern the kingdoms and use his gifts wisely. This is quite different from the common kingly viewpoint that he earned and deserved all that he possessed. The king could use his possessions as he pleased.
We frequently forget that all that we have is a gift given to us by the Lord. Looking around our little “kingdoms” we tell ourselves, “We’ve worked hard for all that we have.” We take pride in what we have achieved. Our possessiveness allows us to misuse our gifts for selfish, self-centered reasons. King Cyrus echoed a theme that is stated frequently in the Bible: we have been blessed so that we can be a blessing—we have received gifts so that we can share gifts. The characteristics that naturally develop from such a perspective are gratitude and generosity.
God of Abundance, you have been generous in your gifts. Help us to freely share those gifts. Amen.
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
“He has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah” (Ezra 1:2b).
Lamar was nearing his high school graduation, and he didn’t have a clue as to what he wanted to do. “I guess I’ll just go with whatever makes the most money,” he decided. Cynthia had been retired for six months. The joy of doing nothing had worn off. She knew she needed to do something, but she wasn’t sure what that should be. Binh’s congregation offered two mission trip opportunities. He knew that he could only go on one, but he didn’t know for which one he should sign up.
We are faced with choices every day and every moment of our lives. Some of our decisions determine what we will do for a day and others for a lifetime. Cyrus understood that as the most powerful king in that part of the world he was still ruled by someone greater. Cyrus was following God’s directive when he allowed the Israelites to return to the Promised Land and rebuild the temple. We can learn an important lesson from Cyrus.
As disciples of Jesus, we live and breathe to serve God and share God’s love and grace with others. The Lord not only wants to be with us as we live lives of service, but God also wants to lead us in that service. Following the Lord begins with a simple question, “What would you have me to do?” The answer may come through the counsel of friends, gut feelings, logical choices or the closed doors and open windows of life. The Lord will answer our question. When God does, we will have the fulfillment of knowing that we are doing what we were created to do.
Oh God of Revelation, show us how you would have us serve you, and empower us for the tasks to which you call us. Amen.
Thursday, December 10, 2015
“To offer burnt offerings on it, as prescribed in the law of Moses the man of God” (Ezra 3:3).
His parents looked at his report card and Ryan knew he was in for it. Two “D’s” and the rest “C’s” was not what his parents expected—demanded—from him. It wasn’t that Ryan wasn’t intelligent. He just didn’t turn in his homework. After being grounded and having his cell phone taken away until he showed his parents that his homework was completed, Ryan decided he needed to change his act. He began to turn in his homework faithfully and his grades went up. His challenge now was to continue.
The Israelites had returned from their exile in Babylon. They had learned their lesson. They were not going to make any idols or follow any false gods. They were going to worship the Lord and precisely follow the rules laid down in the Torah. The challenge before them was greater than that, though. Not only were they called to worship the Lord outwardly, they were also called to be changed inwardly so that they led righteous, faithful lives that sought justice and equality.
Change is inevitable as we grow and mature as disciples of Jesus. The fact that we change outwardly is not enough, though. The Holy Spirit seeks to change us from the inside out. By doing this the changes become a true expression of who we are instead of a sham. The world is transformed by authentic people, while facades are only ridiculed and torn down.
Divine Craftsman, change us so that we are better able to reflect your love and grace to others and may that change be from the inside of our lives to the outside. Amen.
Friday, December 11, 2015
“Priests … praise the Lord with trumpets … the Levites … with cymbals … and they sang” (Ezra 3:10-11).
When a goal is achieved and a dream is realized, it is time to celebrate. For over a generation the exiles had dreamed of returning to the Promised Land. They talked about it, lamented that they were not in the Promised Land and even wrote Psalms about it. Returning to Jerusalem and rebuilding the temple was a dream that many thought would not come true. Yet, the dream did come true, the people were back on the land and the reconstruction of the temple had begun. It was a time to celebrate and they pulled out all of the stops to praise the Lord.
The exiles who returned to Jerusalem have given us a good example. We are to praise the Lord by any means possible: blow the trumpet, crash the cymbal, sing at the top of our voices, clap our hands and dance. The praise of God, though, doesn’t need to be confined to goals achieved and realized dreams. Each day is a day to celebrate God’s gifts of life and relationships along with God’s daily provision and protection. A holy noise is music to God’s ears.
Magnificent and Holy God, receive our prayers of thanks and praise. Amen.
Saturday, December 12, 2015
“For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever towards Israel” (Ezra 3:11).
The people of Israel celebrated the fact that God’s steadfast love had enabled them to return to the Promised Land. Looking back on their exile in Babylon they were able to admit and to celebrate that God’s steadfast love was even present during those dark days. As the Israelites recalled their history from Abraham to the Exile and eventually to the Promised Land, they were able to see the thread of God’s steadfast love running through it all.
God has told the disciples of Jesus that God’s love is always a part of our lives. Nothing, God assures us, is able to separate us from that love. God loves us even when we rebel against God and travel our own path. God welcomes us with a loving embrace when we return. God will love us if we achieve great things in our service of God, just as God will love us if we fall flat on our faces. God’s love is one of those constants in our lives whether we are enduring nights of darkness or rejoicing in days of light.
God of Love, we thank you that your love is steadfast in our lives. Filled with your love may we boldly love others. Amen.
Sunday, December 13, 2015
“People who had seen the first house on its foundation … wept with a loud voice” (Ezra 3:12).
The temple that Solomon had built had been magnificent. Its white marble glimmered and the gold and bronze shined brightly. Solomon built that temple during Israel’s golden age. Israel had been a significant Mid-Eastern power and had sat on a major trade route. Solomon had the resources to build a great temple. The returning exiles did not have those resources. The temple that they built was at best a modest reflection of Solomon’s great temple. The people who had seen Solomon’s temple wept because of the change. They longed for the past—the good old days. Those days would never come again.
Change is never easy, but it is constantly present in our lives. There are times when we do not view the changes of our lives in a positive manner. Our homes get smaller rather than bigger. Our cars get older rather than newer. People we love move away or die. A youthful body free of pain is replaced by the ache of age. We look at the changes and we long for the old, for the once was and for the good old days. This misplaced focus on life causes us to weep and restrains our celebration.
God invites us to look to God and to look to the future. Solomon’s temple had “died,” but the new temple brought with it a new day. The exiles had been “dead” in Babylon, but they had been given new life when they returned to the Promised Land. With every death God brings forward a new beginning. While it may be appropriate to grieve some changes, our grief is never meant to overwhelm our celebration.
God of Life, enable us to look to you instead of the change, to live boldly today and step into the future. Amen.